Yvette Mayorga’s Artistic Contribution to the Immigration Conversation

Underground Sleep, 2016. Photo courtesy of the artist. Underground Sleep, 2016. Photo courtesy of the artist. Entering Yvette Mayorga’s exhibition, The Politics of Desire, at Chicago Artists Coalition is a deliberate, and thoughtful, experience of visual sensory overload.  Comprised of densely-placed paintings and sculptures, the works feature domestic interiors, cake-like sculptures, and a preponderance of women’s shoes, all displayed in a gallery painted bright pink.  While the pieces can stand on their own, Mayorga considers the exhibition a curated installation wherein the works interact with one another in dialog around a common theme, the inaccessibility of the American dream for Mexican immigrants.  She says:

     My ongoing project Borderland Series employs      confection, industrial materials, and the American board game Candy Land as a conceptual framework to juxtapose the borderlands of the U.S. and Mexico. The spaces in the ‘Candy Lands’ of my work relate to immigrant utopian visions of the American Dream. The monuments and towers, built from accumulated candy, frosting, and found objects exemplify the excess associated with the American Dream. They stand as living shrines to real life individuals…

Mayorga uses visual tropes of celebration—festive objects, vibrant colors, and cakes—to comment on race, identity, and gender as they are experienced in U.S./Mexico border politics.  Several of her sculptures are tiered cakes, and the celebratory confection is featured in paintings as well.  Mayorga employs cake decorating techniques in her two-dimensional works, using cake piping instead of a paint brush.  The result is thickly-textured and exuberant, almost to the point of exaggeration. Stilletos, After I made America Sweet Again, 2016 - 17. Photo courtesy of Carolina Sanchez. Stilletos, After I made America Sweet Again, 2016 - 17. Photo courtesy of Carolina Sanchez. Domestic imagery abounds in Mayorga’s paintings.  While vivid colors and comforting objects like dining room tables and girls’ bedrooms with fluffy pillows and warm blankets are the initial impression, a darker theme is present as well.  Mayorga says she uses the concept of home to consider her personal experience as well as broad themes of immigration:

The work is touching on the idea of the home, specifically the home I grew up in…while also contemplating the idea of surveillance; the paintings are depicted through a birds eye view.  …My home is a remnant of my dad’s crossing the border, and the pervasive idea of the American dream. Through recreating these spaces with piping I am reinforcing the illusion of the sweetness of the dream while also poking at surveillance and invasion of the home through the use of political imagery such as feet coming out of a car, a soldier hiding under my bed, or the use of the ladder as a wish to climb over a fence.

Mayorga conducts her investigation of immigration, the American dream, and its excesses through a feminist lens.  She chose to paint the gallery walls pink to exaggerate this effect.  Her frequent use of women’s shoes in the sculptural work references her body as a daughter of immigrants.  In actuality, the shoes would be difficult to wear because of the decorations that cover them, a metaphor, she explains, for the difficulties faced by women of color in America. Interspersed throughout the exhibition are text pieces that read “Alien” and “Illegal.”  Mayorga says she includes these elements to comment on today’s current political environment, while also ironically referring to her status as being American-born and thus never having had to cross the border.  She concludes, “I have been grappling with these politically infused issues for years.  I think it’s made my work ever so timely, but it’s something that has driven my work since the beginning.  The politics of today have created even more of an urgency within me and my work.” Bedroom after 15th Birthday, 2016. Photo courtesy of the artist. Bedroom after 15th Birthday, 2016. Photo courtesy of the artist. Mayorga’s work continues to be timely and she excels at conveying her themes through paintings, sculptures, and installations.  Both visually and conceptually, the experience of her current exhibition is one worth having.   The Politics of Desire is on view through March 23 at Chicago Artists Coalition, 217 N. Carpenter St., Chicago. For more information, visit  www.chicagoartistscoalition.org.
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Susan Musich